The 4 Watersheds or “Cuatro Cuencas” Movement in the Amazon Basin of Loreto Peru

E-Tech’s largest long-term commitment is with the struggle of four Indigenous Federations of the Amazon to remediate and rehabilitate crude oil destruction of their territory in Loreto, Peru. This is known as the Cuatro Cuencas movement.

Interrelated with this huge decades-long task is the Federations’ hard work and planning led by the Apus (chiefs) to develop a post-oil regenerative economy for subsequent generations. A first element of economic development has been the creation of a program to train environmental monitors and communal businesses to work as skilled remediators of their own territory. This process is a huge and underfunded undertaking, but both nationally and globally precedent setting. The “actas” (signed agreements) of 2016 between the government and Federations incorporate the practice of determining the best strategies from the perspective of Indigenous communities. At all stages of this remediation-rehabilitation, the 4 Federations have the right to prior informed consent of any government plan for implementation of cleanup. E-Tech International’s commitment is shared by our partner, Peruvian nonprofit E-Tech Peru, and by the urban political platform for the Federations, PUINAMUDT.

Our early work in Loreto began in 2006 and was focused on assistance to Achuar communities within the Corrientes River Federation FECONACO in implementing the re-injection of polluted “produced” water into oil wells rather than rivers and wetlands. In subsequent years, we monitored the progress – or rather lack thereof – of Pluspetrol remediation of oil Blocks 1AB (now 192) and 8 and worked with Indigenous monitoring groups to understand their own vision of community monitoring. In 2013, we began to work directly with the Federations of the Pastaza, Marañon, Corrientes, and Tigre rivers. From 2013 to 2015, the focus was negotiating an agreement between the Federations and the national government on polluted site cleanup. Post 2016, there has been a very dynamic implementation and evolution of these agreements leading to declarations of environmental emergencies by the Peruvian government and funding for the initial stages of cleanup. Currently the Federations involved are ACODECOSPAT (Marañon) FECONACOR (Corrientes) FEDIQUEP (Pastaza) and OPIKAFPE (Tigre).

E-Tech International has advised the 4 Federations, which includes 6 cultural-linguistic groups in 101 villages, in implementing a 2016 national government-indigenous agreement to begin cleanup on a handful of approximately 3000 contaminated sites spread across 2500 square miles at the headwaters of the Amazon River. The communities we work in are often remote, and prior to the presence of extractive activities – some beginning in the 19th century – were relatively self-reliant. As locals have pointed out, once Indigenous lands and waters are contaminated, so too is their food, their drinking water, their forest agriculture, their plant medicines, and their sacred sites. Along with the environmental destruction, the socio-economic impacts of extractive and unregulated capitalism are significant challenges to cultural renewal.

Our approach is to apply the best possible science to understand the ecological problems, to challenge industry’s questionable technical claims, and to uphold Indigenous knowledge and science as the most legitimate lens for local challenges. An important component of our approach is a convergence of Indigenous place-based knowledge developed over centuries with Western science tools. We train and equip community environmental monitors to use Western science indicators of adverse impacts on ecology and human health to document the effects of extractive activities while including local indicators of ecology and health proposed by communities. This training is a preparation to take on skilled environmental work to participate in the rehabilitation of their own lands and waters. This meaningful participation in cleanup oversight contributes to returning power and agency to the community.

In 2021, E-Tech formed a consortium with Peruvian environmental consultant and oil response team Conciencia Ambiental (COAM) to implement a long sought goal of government-funded capacity building workshops for the Federations. E-Tech Peru is administering the ongoing capacity-building to create and implement communal enterprises that can eventually remediate oil pollution on Indigenous lands. This training is a complex but important step toward strengthening community-led remediation efforts and for locals to present informed opinions on cleanup to government and contractors. With this new process and the government commitment to continued funding, the Federations may be on a path to increased protection from oil contamination. Neither remediation commitments nor training funds administered by quasi-state entity PROFONANPE guarantee success, but they are precedent-setting, extremely important and exciting.

What is “rehabilitation”? How can a regenerative post-oil economy grow?

The long process of recovering the ecological and social integrity of Loreto, Peru can be described in many ways. Initially, “remediation” was used to describe a basic process of reducing the concentration of contaminants in oil-degraded soil until it met regulatory standards. On the other end of the spectrum, “restoration” implies bringing back the land to a pristine condition – something that is not always possible, especially when considering historical Indigenous socio-spiritual uses of land. The word “rehabilitation” has now been adopted by the Peruvian state in its process of cleanup and we have taken it up as well, since rehabilitating implies a recovery of social, ecological, and economic functions or abilities, and is open-ended enough to allow local determination of end goals.

The Apus have identified economic goals beginning in 2023 that they see as consistent with their culture and territory. They hope to make some money, a necessity in an economy entangled with Capitalism , but first and foremost they seek to rebuild self-sufficiency based on resurgence of cultural values and knowledge that was interrupted by colonialism and extractivism. The struggle against oil is not over and adversaries of Indigenous self-determination continually transform from private to state-run and back again. However, the movement to create an economy based on fishing, forest agriculture, appropriate tourism, as well as cleanup of their own territory is now underway.

E-Tech’s evolving strategies

When E-Tech began working closely with Indigenous environmental monitors more than a decade ago, we focused on strengthening the locals’ ability to identify and document contaminants such as oil and metals. We later expanded indicators to fish, the lifeblood of locals, so that the end results of contamination could be documented and the richness of local fish knowledge could be legitimized. The cultural aspects of contamination and extractive economics are felt deeply by the varied Indigenous nations in the region. We have created spaces of training, knowledge exchange, and storytelling, so that rehabilitation is not limited to chemical or biological factors. The intergenerational conversations that are taking place in the region are allowing Indigenous peoples to identify the roots of their resistance to destruction and serve as catalysts for the perpetuation of their land-based knowledge.

Removing contaminants from the soil and water is not enough. Locals need to be driving the process of rehabilitation so that it includes cultural, spiritual, and linguistic components that are difficult to measure but form the basis of land defense and self-determination. Rehabilitation needs to consider that Indigenous knowledge is not static, but rather a dynamic “confluence” of knowledge systems like two rivers – a metaphor used by one of the chiefs in the Marañon. By teaching the youth how to take the best of all knowledge available, the local leaders are creating a resilient generation that can adapt to ever-changing threats.

Photos:  Lucy Kamp, Ricardo Segovia, Diana Papoulias, Richard Kamp


El departamento de Loreto, Peru contiene territorios de alta biodiversidad que tambien son el hogar de pueblos indígenas amazónicos: comunidades nativas de los pueblos Achuar, Quechua y Kichwa. Esta población y ecosistemas están impactados por la actividad hidrocarburífera que ha producido afectaciones a la biodiversidad y a la salud humana . En este contexto, se conformó la Comisión Multisectorial de “Desarrollo de las cuencas de los ríos Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes y Marañón del Departamento de Loreto” en la que participaron las federaciones indígenas[1] FEDIQUEP, FECONACOR, OPIKAFPE y ACODECOSPAT, el Ministerio de Energía y Minas (MEM) y otros sectores del Estado. Producto de ese diálogo se suscribió el Acta de Lima el 10 de marzo de 2015, que acordó la elaboración del Estudio Técnico Independiente (ETI) con el objetivo de proponer lineamientos estratégicos para la remediación de los impactos causados por las operaciones petroleras del ex Lote 1AB.

El estudio ha recopilado en un solo documento las bases de datos de estudios (más de 9 mil registros) que se han hecho desde distintas disciplinas en el ex lote 1AB, lo que permite tener un acceso a la información sobre el territorio bajo un mismo criterio. El estudio plantea que para la remediación se deben considerar cuatro aspectos importantes: el abordaje singular por cuencas o microcuencas, la participación activa de los pueblos desde un enfoque intercultural, la compatibilidad y adecuación del marco normativo, y la optimización de recursos para la remediación.  El estudio propone que, al ser el ecosistema amazónico un sistema con características únicas (suelos oligotróficos, alta precipitación, etc.) y contar con condiciones socio-culturales peculiares, la remediación debe ser abordada de forma integral, por sistemas de microcuencas o cuencas, mas no por puntos contaminados; esto debido a que por las características del suelo y sistemas hídricos cada punto contaminado se extiende o contamina otras partes del territorio causando diversos daños.

The department of Loreto, Peru has a great biodiversity and is home to Achuar, Quechua and Kichwa Amazonian indigenous peoples. In this area also lies the former 1AB oil field. The hydrocarbon activity has affected the biodiversity and human health. In this context, the Multisectoral Commission for “Development of the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañón river basins of the Department of Loreto” was formed, in which the indigenous federations FEDIQUEP, FECONACOR, OPIKAFPE, ACODECOSPAT, and the Ministry of Energy and Mines among other sectors of the state participated.  As a result of dialogue, the Lima Act was signed on March 10, 2015, which agreed on the preparation of the Independent Technical Study (ETI) with the objective of proposing strategic guidelines for the remediation of the impacts caused by the oil operations of the former Lote 1AB.  The study has compiled and reviewed in a single document studies using a database of more than 9 thousand records. The ETI proposes that four important aspects should be considered in remediation: the singular approach by watersheds or microwatersheds, the active participation of peoples from an intercultural approach, the compatibility and adequacy of the regulatory framework, and the optimization of resources for remediation. The study proposes that, since the Amazonian ecosystem is a system with unique characteristics (oligotrophic soils, high rainfall, etc.) and have specific socio-cultural conditions, the remediation must be addressed in an integral way, by microbasin or basin systems, but not for contaminated points. This is due to the fact that, due to the characteristics of the soil and water systems, each contaminated point spreads or contaminates other parts of the territory causing various damages.

See also: Los costos de la contaminación y la remediación petrolera

On October 23, 2016, E-Tech director Dick Kamp signed an agreement in Iquitos, Loreto, Peru with Rector Heiter Valderrama Freyre of the Universidad de Amazonia Peruana (UNAP) that commits the two institutions to cooperate in attempting to develop a certified laboratory that can provide environmental analysis to indigenous communities in the region facing crude oil contamination as well as a curriculum to help strengthen the capacity of the communities to remediate oil pollution.  The agreement was the result of hard work of the E-Tech team working with consultant and UNAP associate professor Duma Rengife. Indigenous leader of the Federacion de Quecha del Pastaza (FEDIQUEP) Apu Aurelio Chino joined Dick and Peruvian government environmental fund (FONAM) directorJulia Justo at the International Funders for Indigenous People (IFIP) in Lima October 25 to present the challenging scenario of cleaning up thousands of contaminated sites in the Pastaza, Maranon, Tigre and Corrientes river basins of Loreto while pipeline spills remain endemic.  E-Tech subsequently participated in the Swift Foundation grantees meeting in Lima that focused heavily on indigenous human rights and environmental protection.

Remediation and even more, restoration of lands and waters to conditions for traditional usage will take decades.   This means that to for indigenous communities to be able to oversee and actually work on cleanup and restoration, including experimenting with different appropriate technologies to do so, will require substantial investment in education, laboratories, certification to be employed, and lots of money to travel in the decades long negotiations and consultations with changing administrations. This will be a complex and evolving process.

Video and workbook for week-long course on community Amazon Basin monitoring of oil contamination in 2021 (Todos Los Ojos en la Amazonía):

Taller de Monitores PUINAMUDT

Cuaderno de Monitoreo PUINAMUDT

Documents for 2-day course on community Amazon Basin monitoring of oil contamination in 2016:

Loreto 2016 monitoring guide

Monitoring macro invertebrates data sheet

Casos de Estudio para Costos de la Remediación Ambiental en Zonas Petroleras  (Environmental Remediation Cost Case Studies in Oilfield Zones)  July 2016


E-Tech Reports on Loreto

Summary of Data Collection and Evaluation at Long-Term  Monitoring Sites in the four cuencas (2016 – mid 2018)

Resumen de la Recopilación y Evaluación de datos en Sitios de Monitoreo a Largo Plazo (2016 – mid 2018)

APÉNDICE – Imágenes de Google Earth sitios de monitoreo

From Oxfam, Mario Zuñiga (E-Tech Perú) and Aymara León (PUINAMUDT): La sombra de los hidrocarburos en el Perú


From The Guardian, August 3, 2017 excellent article in the Guardian by David Hill on the complex oil pollution situation in the Loreto Peru Amazon Basin, which is an E-Tech top priority.  It focuses on the larger picture and stands out for it’s careful research.

$1bn to clean up the oil in Peru’s northern Amazon

From Democracy Now, August 23, 2017.    Pastaza River Indigenous federation FEDIQUEP and their leader Apu Aurelio Chino seize a Canadian oil field over lack of democratic consultation over oil exploitation plans.   E-Tech works extensively with these people on monitoring oil pollution and impacts on fish and health in the river basin.

Peru: Indigenous Nations in Amazon Seize Control of Canadian Company’s Oil Facilities

From Alerta Amazónica:

From Ricardo Segovia:

Camisea Pipeline (Cusco)

In February 2006, Following five pipeline ruptures in 18 months, we conducted an independent audit of the Camisea natural gas/natural gas liquids pipeline, accurately predicted a future pipeline break, and effectively pressured a 2007 governmental audit. From 2009 to 2012, E-Tech, with the Department of Cusco, held annual fora with diverse participants to discuss monitoring, best oilfield practices, and prior and informed consent. Participants requested that Bill Powers write a Spanish-language best oilfield practices manual for tropical rainforests (see link below). Training on oilfield best practices in the Manu biosphere region will take place in 2014, and we plan to begin evaluating the environmental effects of small-scale mining for the government of Rio Santiago in the Peruvian Cordillera del Condor area.

E-Tech/Regional Government of Cusco Fora on Hydrocarbon Environmental Monitoring, Best Practices and Environmental Criteria of Prior Informed Consent and Consultancy (2009-2011)

Camisea Natural Gas/Natural Gas Liquids Project, Peru (2004-2007)

E-Tech Reports on Peru

Peru: Best Practices For The Oil And Gas Industry

Oil Waste Cleanup in Four River Basins of Loreto, Peru